Baseball

As we continue our trip around the diamond for the Sox this year, we now come to the hot corner which is manned by the most important player on the 2020 White Sox. Sure, you can make the case that other players like Eloy Jimenez or Luis Robert need to have breakout seasons, but if the White Sox are going to be good in 2020, Yoan Moncada is going to need to be their best player – again. That may even be true of the years beyond. Let’s just get into this because I am ready to lose my gord over this man.

2019 Stats

.315/.367/.548, 25 HR, 79 RBI

5.7 fWAR, 4.6 bWAR, 5.1 WARP

7.2 BB%, 27.5 K%

.379 wOBA, 141 wRC+ .915 OPS

-4 DRS, 5 Outs Above Average

Last Week On Nitro: Yoan went on a full blown Fuck You Tour in 2019, telling every White Sox fan and baseball analyst that started to doubt him after his rough 2018 campaign exactly where they could put their concern. From the very beginning of the season, Moncada looked like a new player. He was hitting higher in the lineup every day, playing a new position, and was more aggressive at the plate, and all of that led to huge success from jump. He was mashing enormous dingers in big situations right away, which is great for us all because he has the best home run swing in all of baseball. If you don’t enjoy watching this man hit a baseball 450 feet and admire his work with incredible swagger and charisma, you are a joyless human being. Along with the huge homers, he also ripped 34 doubles and 5 triples, and while his walk rate dipped a bit from 2018, you take that trade off for the significantly lower K-rate and the more aggressive approach that led to a .915 OPS.

The only problem with Moncada’s 2019 outbreak is that it’s simply undeniable that his .406 BABIP is not repeatable and is destined to regress. With that being said, when you go across his Statcast profile and look at all of his numbers, the BABIP is the only thing that really sticks out as a red flag. His wOBA of .379 was barely above his xwOBA of .362, and given the fact that he hits the living shit out of the ball as well as anyone in the game – he was 7th in average exit velocity (97th percentile) and 19th in hard hit percentage (92nd percentile) – a high BABIP is going to be a natural occurrence. It certainly won’t be over .400 again, but it’s still reasonable to think he can keep it up around .360-.370, and that’s still going to result in a near-.900 OPS. Aaron Judge is routinely among the leaders in exit velo and hard hit percentage, and and he’s had BABIP’s around .360 every year of his career so far, so there is your comp and reassurance for Moncada’s future.

Along with the offensive outburst, Moncada took to playing third base extremely well, registering in the 87th percentile for outs above average. He also is still one of baseball’s faster runners, though he didn’t steal a lot of bases, totaling just 10. But if BABIP and SB’s are the biggest issues from a 2019 season that saw him register the 16th best fWAR in all of baseball – higher than the likes of Ronald Acuña Jr. and Juan Soto despite playing less games than either of them *sips a huge cup a tea* – then we are just being nitpicky.

TOO SWEET (WHOOP WHOOP): As I said in the open, Moncada is going to have to be the Sox’ best player again if 2020 is truly going to be a year that sees the Sox contend, and to that end the best case for the Sox is that Moncada gets even better this year than he was in 2019. And even with the natural BABIP regression, I think it’s possible. The .367 OBP (or similar, obviously, as I’d be a fool to predict it’ll be exact) could be repeatable if he is able to bring his walk rate back up a bit, and while it may be wishful thinking to think that the K-rate will fall at the same time, obviously that would help things. On top of that, continuing hit the piss out of everything in site while enable the power to stay up and he can easily slug in the mid .500’s again – again, the batted ball rates compare nicely to Judge, who has a career low SLG% of .528.

If all of the above happens, I think it’s easy to envision Moncada slashing something like .270/.360/.540, which would obviously be incredible. If he stays healthy – which has admittedly been an issue for him so far in his career – he could easily hit 30-35 homers and 40 doubles in the process. In terms of the peripherals, Moncada has already been outspoken about wanting to steal more bases, so if he can even raise from 10 steals to 15 in 2020, that is going to boost his wRC+ and WAR numbers. And I think he can get even better defensively as well, although as long as he doesn’t get significantly worse he will be fine over there. If all of this comes to fruition, I think we are talking about 6 win player, and if the Sox are able to reach their ceiling, that will be good enough to make Moncada a dark horse MVP Candidate.

YOU FUCKED UP! YOU FUCKED UP!: I have to be honest – selfishly, I don’t even want to entertain the thought of Moncada falling off a cliff. I am clearly biased, but an all out collapse that indicates 2019 was nothing but a blip on the radar does feel extremely unlikely, but baseball is a cruel game. I don’t think he’d fall so far as to be at 2018 levels again, but if the BABIP was truly the main driver behind his 2019 success, then it’s not all that unrealistic to think he could crash back down to being closer to a 3 win player. And while that would still qualify as a perfectly fine MLB regular, that would be a huge disappointment in terms of the expectations that the Sox and their fans have for Moncada. That’s all I want to say about this because trying to speculate numbers too much could just get depressing.

BAH GOD, THAT’S MONCADA’S MUSIC: Well, I kinda lost my gord a little early here. I tried to stay measured and not just go “WELL THE BEST CASE SCENARIO HERE IS HE BECOMES BETTER THAN MIKE TROUT MY FRENDT” in the TOO SWEET section, but in the process I think I dipped a bit too much into what I am actually predicting will happen. Maybe my 6-win player idea is a bit much, largely because that could depend on him staying healthy, but overall I really think that what we saw in 2019 was a sign of things to come for Moncada. The guy is really fucking good at baseball, and he is going to be really fucking good for a long time. And that is wall I have to say about that.

Oh wait, one more thing – extend him now, Rick!

Baseball

BOX SCORES

Game 1: Sox 7 – Braves 10

Game 2: Sox 5 – Braves 11

Game 3: Sox 3 – Braves 5

 

 

The pitching woes continue for the Sox, who faced their 3rd legitimate offensive juggernaut in a row this weekend, with predictable results. Giolito fared the best, though he was completely done in by 2 home runs, both coming from Young Christian Slater lookalike Freddie Freeman. Nova couldn’t go more than 4 innings, and Lopez backslid by not making it out of the 3rd. In a microcosm, none of this means anything really. Nova isn’t gonna be here next year, Lopez had one bad start after a string of solid ones and Lucas Giolito still went 6 while striking out 7. The offense wasn’t as putrid this series so that’s an improvement I guess. None of that makes it any easier to watch, however.

This last month of the season is going to be some 6 pack viewing for Sox fans, as in it’s gonna take a 6 pack of at least Bass Ale to get you through some of these games. Expect to see a lot more Carson Fulmer and Manny Banuelos, both of whom made their triumphant returns today. Jon Jay has gone back on the MIA list with season ending surgery on his hip, likely ending his tenure with the White Sox and ensuring his lasting contribution to the team being convincing Manny Machado that, yes, San Diego is nicer in the winter than Chicago. With Rick Hahn‘s steadfast refusal to call up Luis Robert from AAA, other than watching Moncada, Anderson and Giolito string out the remainder of their time there isn’t much here to lure people out to The Down Arrow in September. I’m sure Zack Collins will be here, but Renteria wouldn’t give him playing time over AJ Fucking Reed back in July so forgive me if my excitement is somewhat tempered. There’s a lot to be excited about this team, but right now it’s hard to see the forest for the trees.

Bullets, please.

 

BURN IT DOWN

Lucas Giolito looked pretty good except for the 2 shitty changeups he threw to Freddie Freeman. He even made up for the first ones by knocking in his first career RBIs by smoking a single in the gap off Julio Teheran in the 2nd inning. Probably would’ve been a double for pretty much anyone else on the team but Lucas was blessed with the same type of speed that I was, namely “none.” Which is completely fine, because if you’re expecting your AL-based starting pitcher to challenge the arm of Future Legend Ronald Acuna Jr then you were fucked before word go. Giolito pitched 173 innings last year, and after today he will be sitting on 162. Should be no reason he couldn’t hit 200 this year, leaving him completely stretched out for next season’s hopeful contention.

-Eloy had some hits this weekend, which is a good sign for his timing (which has been shit since his last IL stint). What isn’t the best sign is that they were all singles. Eloy has now gone 10 games without an extra base hit, which is definitely cause for a second look. James Fegan had an excellent article the other day questioning whether or not he might need to adjust his batting stance in the off-season, basically implying that his crouched stance might be affecting his ability to catch up to fastballs up in the zone. Hitting coach Todd Steverson has had luck with Moncada and Anderson in the past few springs and I feel there’s no reason Eloy can’t have the same success. He just has to stay healthy, so as to not have to start from scratch every few weeks.

-The Sox bullpen wasn’t any better than the starters this weekend, with Aaron Bummer and Big Boss Ross being particularly putrid. Bummer has already thrown 20 more innings than ever before in his career and that might be getting to him as more and more walks have started to creep into his stat line. Fortunately Manny Banuelos and Carson Fulmer are here to lighten the load. I haven’t totally given up on Fulmer, and think that he could still be a valuable piece going forward. If that’s the case, now would be the optimal time to show it.

-I’m not a huge fan of Renteria’s management style to begin with, and watching him do it in a National League park is even worse. When I run for president next year on a “Designated Hitters For All” platform next year, don’t be surprised if I win in a landslide.

-Next up is the Indians, who desperately need to take this series from the Sox. I’m sincerely hoping they can play spoiler and ruin September for Cleveland before the Browns take over in October. “Keep Cleveland Depressed” is also one of my many main campaign platforms.

-In other news, AEW’s All Out PPV was Saturday night. I was there at the Sears Center and had a blast, even with Dad Bod Chris Jericho winning the title. Should give AEW some nice momentum heading into their television debut in a few weeks, unless one of the Young Bucks died last night, which is highly possible.

Baseball

When the Sox take the field tonight, or more accurately when they watch the Braves take it in the top of the first, they’ll see a player they hope Luis Robert could emulate. That’s going to be awfully hard to do, as Ronald Acuna Jr. is off to one of the best starts in MLB history. It’s true. Acuna will walk with giants when this season is over.

Acuna is likely to get around 6.0 WAR in his second season, which is his age-21 season. If that were to happen, Acuna’s 9.7 WAR through age 21 would be the 20th best mark in history. It’ll be the best mark since Mike Trout 20.3 WAR in 2013, though he turned 22 in August of that season whereas Acuna won’t turn 22 until December. It’ll put him around names like Frank Robinson and Eddie Matthews. Not bad company.

It’s a mark of the game today how many modern players are on the list post-20th and lower. Manny Machado is on there, as is Juan Soto. So is Carlos Correa. And these are all names that Acuna has beaten so far and is only going to widen the lead as this season closes out. When you’re ahead of those, you’ve clearly pressed the right buttons.

Acuna was held down in Triple-A last year for the season’s first three weeks, due to whatever reason the Braves tried to hide behind to not say it was about service time. He’s already played 23 more games this year, but has 10 more home runs and basically double the stolen-bases. Acuna has also increased his walk-rate to 10.2% this year, up a point from last year.

The big improvement in Acuna’s game this season is his defense. He was a subpar centerfielder last year, but has become a slightly above-average one, with 1.2 defensive runs saved after a -7.8 season. As he learns the hitters at this level and gets more accustomed, that’s only going to go up, making him an all-around weapon.

While Acuna has hit more homers this year, he’s lost some slugging and ISO from his rookie season. It’s hard to know why, as he’s hitting the ball just as hard as he did last year and is producing far more line drives. He’s not striking out any more than he did, so maybe it’s just one of those strange things that happen in baseball, and will rebound simply because baseball gonna baseball on ya.

The impressive thing about Acuna is that he murders pretty much every pitch. He’s not just hitting fastballs and mistakes. He hits .338 against change-ups, .330 against curves, and .315 on sinkers. He covers most of the zone, though up and away seems to still be something of a weak spot for him:

Maybe that’s the one half-downside to Acuna this year, is that he’s not doing as much damage going the other way. But even that’s relative. Last year he had a 1.200 OPS when going the other way, and this year it’s all the way down to .908. This would be complaining about a mole on the Venus De Milo.

It’s hard to know where Acuna goes from here, because he’s already a top-tier player. He strikes out a touch more than you’d like, but if he’s going to hit 40 bombs, steal 30 bags, and hit around .300, who is really going to complain? If he lowers that, then you’re talking about the Trout-Betts range for him.

It sets up the Braves for a while for sure. The next generation is Acuna, Ozzie Albies, and Austin Riley, though they’ll have some more spots to fill. Christian Pache and Drew Waters could arrive next year. Weren’t we sick of the Braves winning all the time not so long ago?